Santo Domingo de la Calzado had a hard time of it. He applied to become a monk but two holy orders turned him down. Instead he became a hermit and devoted himself to helping pilgrims on the way to Santiago. The original causeway over the rocky torrents of the Oja river was built by him. When he died, he became the patron saint of engineers for bridges and other ways to span water. He was buried in the middle of the Camino and the small eponymous town grew up round him. His tomb is in the crypt of the small perpendicular cathedral. A mecca for stone carvers who arrived, got out their chisels and stayed and created a series of beautiful carvings up the columns, on the capitals and on the exquisite and well preserved tombs.
In the half-light of the holy building, below a fragment of gallows, above a painting of a hanging, a fat white cockerel and hen can be seen scratching up the sawdust. They are in an elaborate and decorated cupboard with a glass front. Any pilgrim staying in the town hostel and going outside to do their laundry, will find chicken subs caged and lusty amongst the socks, towels and drying shorts. The duo gets swapped every other week.
The poultry keeping is a celebration of Santo Domingo’s greatest miracle. The story goes like this: A german couple and their son, spent the night in the town. The inn-keeper’s daughter took a fancy to young Hugonell, but he turned her down. Piqued, she sneaked a silver goblet into his saddle-bag. The next day they were apprehended as they crossed the causeway, he was found guilty and hanged. The heartbroken parents travelled to Santiago – several weeks walk on. On the return journey they stopped in the main square of the town and found H still alive – saved by Santo Domingo who knew he was innocent. The mother and father hurried to the judge to report this. Sharpening his knife to carve a pair of roasted fowl, the judge laughed outright: “your son is as alive as these birds in front of me.” At which point, feathers sprouted, the cock crew and the hen laid an egg. Chickens have been kept in the cathedral ever since.